Just like humans dogs get lice as well, although it is quite rare in clean environments. Canine lice are a different species from human lice and cannot be passed on to humans. And human lice cannot be passed on to dogs due to the difference in skin and hair. The main difference is that dog lice is significantly slower than human lice, which is why a full blown infestation is rare in well kept homes.
Lice do not fly and against some people’s belief they do not jump either. They tend to crawl from host to host although they rarely survive in the environment they do transfer when one dog has had close contact with another infected dog.
Lice that have found a good host spend their whole life cycle (around 21 days) on that host, breeding and laying eggs - commonly called nits, which are attached to the base of the hair. They are what is known as a parasite (something that needs to feed off another living creature to survive). Some dog lice simply bite and live off the dead skin and other lice live off the blood like ticks, leaving nasty wounds. In order to stay on their host they use claws to grip the hair.
Dog lice can be identified as small gray or brown specs and by the eggs that they lay, which are generally lighter in color.
Lice are definitely the least problematic parasite out of fleas, ticks and mites, although they are still distressing for your pooch and can cause major problems if neglected entirely.
Common problems include general discomfort, dry skin and hair loss. “Sucking linognathus piliferus setosus” are the ones that draw blood, which are more painful and obviously leave small wounds which can become infected after continuous scratching and gnawing.
In extreme cases if you’ve left your pet with a negligent friend or with a kennels whilst on vacation, untreated lice can become very dangerous. A dog can lose a quarter amount of blood within a month and suffer serious anemia, shock and death. It doesn’t take long for them to breed and the chain reaction to start.
Detecting lice is not hard; you’ll almost certainly notice your dog going crazy with itching, gnawing and rolling around on the floor and upon further inspection if you notice the white specs (nits) or the live lice walking around then you’ve got an infestation on your hands.
If there are few lice you may only notice the dry skin, red scabs or patches of hair loss. Do not assume they left because 2 days later there will be ten times more and you’ll regret you didn’t tackle it sooner.
You can buy special nit combs to go through your dog’s hair thoroughly and scrape out any nits or lice in the process, although these are usually just to help you find them and should be used in conjunction with medicine and shampoos to get rid of them properly.
If you have more than one dog then they will probably have caught the lice also. It may be harder to find them on the second dog because they haven’t had time to breed, but me sure to give them the medication as well.
If you examine your dog daily, watch where they go and keep a clean home then lice should never become a major problem.
There are tonnes of different parasite and specific lice products on the market which you can use to treat your dog. Some are creams or shampoos, which if used in conjunction with a nit comb can be washed out. You may also get some oral medication from a vet which last for a certain number of days. Whenever a louse bites or consumes the dog’s blood the poison (not actually harmful to the dog) will kill the louse and eventually get rid of any infestation.
It’s normally fair to treat lice at home with some store bought products (always read the instructions closely). But if there is a major infestation and your dog seems weak from anemia or blood loss you should visit a vet for professional treatment. It may also be a good idea to visit a vet if there is substantial blood spots and wounds in case there is an infection or the potential for infection.
After treating your pet, use some antiseptic cream on any cuts or dry patches of skin.